You might expect Lily Kelly-Radford, PhD, to be all business. After all, she says she knew in the sixth grade that she wanted to be a psychologist "like I knew my name" and has a self-described "extreme commitment" to her job. But Kelly-Radford, a vice president of the prominent nonprofit Center for Creative Leadership (CCL), will also tell you she has an extreme commitment to her three children.

"You can be in a very hard-hitting, high-powered position, and you do not have to sacrifice your family," says Kelly-Radford.

In fact, she says, if you're good at what you do, take self-care measures and get creative about integrating your work and family life, you can be a successful leader and fulfill personal obligations.

Creative thinking

Such work-family balance strategies dovetail with Kelly-Radford's job at CCL--a nonprofit founded 35 years ago by H. Smith Richardson Sr., the creator of Vicks Vapor Rub, to translate behavioral research on leadership into real-world applications.

Kelly-Radford oversees one of the center's three major divisions. Her leadership education division is a $55 million enterprise that helps to fund the center's other two arms, one that conducts research on leadership and another that aims to connect leaders with each other.

Her division teaches executives from large companies, educational institutions and the nonprofit sector how to improve their leadership abilities, adapt to change and juggle work and family. All of the training and consulting is grounded in the center's own behavioral research--by psychologists and other social scientists--and the larger psychological literature.

"We believe that leaders learn and they grow, but they don't learn and grow in the same ways" as each other, she explains. "The question is how to make the plethora of behavioral knowledge that's out there meaningful and actionable for people at an individual level and, when companies come to us, at the organizational level."

To translate that behavioral knowledge, Kelly-Radford's division employs about 100 people who deliver the center's training programs and coaching services at CCL headquarters in Greensboro, N.C., and six other branch offices in America, Belgium and Singapore. The training programs are open-enrollment classes that teach leaders practical skills, such as how to create effective teams or increase innovation. The custom-tailored training and coaching includes such services as advising leaders when their corporations merge or helping an institution develop its own in-house leadership development program.

Kelly-Radford also oversees the center's 360-degree feedback services--a method the center pioneered in which participants are evaluated by their supervisors, peers and supervisees. The feedback, she says, gives employees a deep understanding of their strengths and areas to develop.

Even as she focuses on the business-end of the center, most days, Kelly-Radford says, her psychology training is still central to her job: "I'm working on psychometric data, establishing baselines, setting goals, giving feedback, providing a safe environment--it's very akin to being a behavioral psychologist."

Advice for leaders

Indeed, Kelly-Radford says the training in behaviorism she got while earning her PhD in clinical psychology at the University of Georgia has served her well. She's also quick to note, though, that she has expanded her skill set over the years to include other psychological orientations.

Good leaders, she says, are always learning from those around them--peers, subordinates and superiors.

"I don't care how old they are, or about gender, race or position--if they have knowledge, I'm willing to learn it," she explains. "Leadership comes at all levels and in all roles, and it's not just held in positions of power."

In fact, she points to her executive assistant as one of the people she admires the most: "I have never seen anyone maintain the volume of work and such a spirit of calmness," she says.

Kelly-Radford describes this idea that leadership isn't confined to the boardroom as "the essence" of what CCL believes. In fact, one of the center's key principles is that good leaders know their strengths and limitations, draw on others to face complex problems and are continually learning and developing--a tenet that Kelly-Radford has been following throughout her career.

She started out as an assistant psychology professor at Howard University and went on to be an assistant attending psychologist at Harvard Medical School before her growing interest in working with groups and organizations led her to start her own private practice and consulting business.

Kelly-Radford eventually joined CCL in 1990 to direct its flagship leadership course, the Leadership Development Program. Along the way, she picked up business know-how from a variety of peers and supervisors.

"Some people think you can't learn as much in cross-gender or cross-racial relationships," she says, "but I haven't had the luxury of selecting just African-American or just women mentors. I've selected all types."

That's why she says one of her most important skills is something she terms "contextual fluidity," the ability to move from context to context or culture to culture while still being anchored in who you are. Without it, she says, she'd never be able to switch gears between a business meeting in North Carolina and a conference call with colleagues in Singapore--not to mention staying on top of the political and financial developments that affect her business in Europe, Asia and America.

Her adaptability is not lost on colleague Carl Bryant, PhD, CCL's vice president of knowledge management and applied technology, who manages the staff who sell and develop materials for the programs offered by Kelly-Radford's division.

"When Lily gives presentations, she talks about three things that really characterize leaders--and her: substance, savvy and style," he says. "She knows the job, has savvy working cross-culturally...and stylistically is easy to work with. Putting that package together is what really gives her impact and power."

However, excelling in such a high-responsibility job while juggling family demands has also required Kelly-Radford to be creative in integrating the two.

Her school-age children--Miller, 11, and Morgan, 16--attended a Montessori school so they would have flexible schedules that accommodate her travel. That's given Kelly-Radford the chance to take them to Singapore, Turkey, France, England and other countries when she travels. When they don't travel with her, she brings home artifacts and stories that she uses to explain where she's been, and to "cross-fertilize" her experiences between home and work.

She also negotiated flexible scheduling that allowed her to, for example, pick up her son from school or attend an afternoon basketball game. The juggling certainly hasn't always been easy, she says, but having a strong marriage and taking the advice of psychology's self-care literature helps.

"By understanding my own needs for balance, it's not about either/or," she says. "You can have both a family and a very significant job--and in a field that uses psychology in a nontraditional way."

Further Reading

CCL's Web site is www.ccl.org.